Reducing ' street' homelessness dodges the issue

Post by Mike Klassen in


Adding shelters may reduce people sleeping in the street, but it doesn't end homelessness

When Gregor Robertson declared he would run for mayor in 2008, he used Vancouver's homelessness issue as his stated motivation for entering civic politics. In a speech to supporters he said, "We need to end homelessness. Parts of our city are in a state of emergency. We need a firm, realistic plan to eliminate homelessness...not continuing to invest and rely on shelters as the solution."

Robertson remarked that he could "no longer stand by in good conscience" while city hall -as he saw it - fiddled on the homelessness problem.

Just weeks after his announcement, volunteers enlisted by Metro Vancouver roamed the streets and alleys to count how many homeless people lived across our region. In March 2008, the City of Vancouver had 1,580 homeless.

Before that count, under the leadership of mayor Sam Sullivan and minister of housing and social services Rich Coleman, the city and province of B.C. signed memos of understanding that secured thousands of new units of social and supportive housing. From April 2008 to March 2011, 1,457 of those units were brought online in Vancouver alone and occupied by formerly homeless individuals.

The preliminary results of the March 2011 homeless count were released May 24, and despite the emphasis placed upon this issue by Vancouver's mayor, the number of homeless in our city actually went up.

According to Metro Vancouver's latest count, 1,605 people are listed as homeless in the City of Vancouver, or approximately two-per-cent higher than in 2008. Incredibly, Gregor Robertson chalked the statistics up as a success. How, you ask? By citing the reduction in the number of "street" homeless.

What is street homelessness anyway?

A search of the City of Vancouver website, with its hundreds of thousands of reports dating back decades, shows that the expression "street homelessness" was rarely used before the last election. Street homeless are defined as "unsheltered," or more succinctly they are people "sleeping outside."

When Vision Vancouver took office a new reliance on shelters began as a way to solve the problem of homelessness. Of course, this is precisely the approach that Gregor Robertson criticized when he announced his mayoral candidacy.

At a cost of over $2,000 per person per month, the shelter program put a higher emphasis on publicly funding temporary solutions over permanent. While shelters make the problem of homelessness less visible, it's certainly no less acute.

As mayoral candidate, Robertson reserved his greatest criticism for the NPA government's move to reduce social housing in the Olympic Village from 66 per cent to 20 per cent. Yet, after the election he reduced nonmarket housing to six per cent in the Olympic Village, with very few of these units being true social housing that would address homelessness.

Throughout his 2008 campaign voters heard Robertson repeatedly promise to "end homelessness." But then the adjective "street" crept into speeches and, finally, the Vision Vancouver platform document. You could blame citizens for not noticing the new language, or you could ask if voters were misled by Vision's fine print. Ask almost anyone who voted in 2008, did Gregor Robertson promise to end homelessness, or expand shelters?

The Vision Vancouver website posted this promise after the election: "Mayor Gregor Robertson has set 2015 as the goal for ending homelessness in Vancouver." Today, that same page reads "...2015 as the goal for ending street homelessness."

With a few keystrokes Vision Vancouver wiped away their commitment to end homelessness in our city, and made the expansion of temporary shelters their first priority.

While some might forgive Robertson for changing his strategy after getting elected, Vision stubbornly claim they've been consistent with the shelter promise all along.

So why did Vision Vancouver change their website?

The party's web wordsmithing is indication that Gregor Robertson never really intended to end homelessness by 2015.

Rather, he only seeks to make Vancouver's homeless problem less visible. While few of us like to see people living on our streets, it's well understood that the matter cannot be overcome by hiding it.

The lesson for voters next time is to ask, when it comes to addressing homelessness are you promising longterm solutions, or merely temporary fixes?

- Originally published in the Vancouver Sun on June 3, 2011.

- Post by Mike Klassen. Mike is a city council candidate for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you're an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to

Follow Mike on Twitter or on Facebook or visit his website at


I just took some dinner over to my friend, I must admit looked cozy all set up in a doorway...but then again it is warm and dry out...

It turns out he is thinner than I thought, his waist size is about 28-30 he said... he was disappointed as new jeans sounded pretty good..but the hoodies will be greatly appreciated...

I found some work for him painting graffiti tomorrow, so that will put a few bucks in his pocket..

I'm so glad he won't go to the DTES... he is still on his methadone and as always, he is in good spirits...

We will never house the homeless... because it will not be allowed...

If we do the money train will stop...union jobs, pockets folks who go home at night to their warm bed and smile.

There are many homeless in this city that are denied basic medical in emergency wards.... all it takes is a nurse that doesn't want to deal with a homeless person and with the power of her keyboard and a click of a mouse... that homeless person has things written about them on a permanent record...and no way to defend themselves...or clear their records...

It happens a lot, non profits do it all the time.... ask the folks a Carnegie Center... unions protect the workers... who protects the homeless from the "workers"

Some chosen ones get housing, the ones that meekly follow and please the workers.. say what they think the staff want to hear....

Oh but pity the ones that see injustice and speak up.... they are pushed until they snap, and go away..denied service and harassed to the breaking point..

It is all about the money....and union paid jobs on the backs of the is so corrupt you have no idea...

I do have a pretty good idea. I've heard stories like these many times from street people I know personally. It's time for a complete overhaul. A forensic audit of every agency getting more than fifty bucks a month from the city would be a good start. BTW what's going on with the very expensive very secretive Vancouver Services Review?


If there were to be an audit, then we could see some real progress in the homeless situation. As the money could go to really attempting to house and TREAT the homeless.

As it stands there is no motivation... that being said there are a few exceptions to the rule.

The real money making scenario in the Shelter business are the off shoots...

Take catering for example.Someone has to feed the shelter residents...

Big bucks to be had there... for starters.

Both City and Provincial money goes to funding Shelters.

Hi Mike

This is a critical issue for Vancouver and I appreciate your keeping the focus on it and calling Vision to task. I would also like to know (i) what you think the underlying causes are and (ii) how you would address them.


Also, is there any research being done into the relationship between housing affordability and homelessness?

"It is all about the money....and union paid jobs on the backs of the is so corrupt you have no idea..."

Correct, George. But this is not just the homeless; this is how public unions work---from the cops to the firemen to the Lawyers (maybe not a union-proper, but just as protectionist of their "turf" as one) to the BCGEU Registrars/Clerks of Court, to the Prison Guards, to the Sheriffs, to the Dog Catchers, to the Doctors (ditto for College of Physicians and Surgeons as was said for the Law Society), to the Chemists (Pharmacy, monopolized by College Grads since 1891 in British Columbia--somehow from 1858-1891 we got by with a free market in Chemistry) to the---well, the list is too much for anyone to complete.

And what is the common denominator? A "client population" that is _disallowed_ from doing these things for itself. And perhaps that is or was true, to take the pharmacists as an example, in 1891. But times have changed; we now have the Internets, people! So now, whether or not the people could manage for themselves, there is a perverse disincentive for the Unions and those with Union Mentality to enable their "client population" to do for itself. Pharmacy is the best example of this, because it is the most unabashedly vicious in its fronting that it "protects" its "client population." The degradation experienced since the monopolization of pharmacy mirrors the degradation of every population subjugated under a Union of Professionals. Billions of dollars are spent every year to fight the "war on drugs," which would be more honestly called the "war against non-union chemists."

A bit of a digression from the topic at hand, but this is a widespread problem and looking at it through blinders, such that one only focuses on one "client population" abused by the Unionistas---the homeless; the drug addicted; the criminal; the poor---fails to take a reasonable view of the general problem: Unionists see their "client populations" as meat for their Union Meat Grinder. Enable the cattle to do for themselves, or, heavens, to realize that their lot in life is to employ Trade Unionists, and the Meat Grinder is deprived of grist. That simply will not do; after all, these Trade Unionists have homes to buy, vacations to go on, all sorts of things that their "client populations" rarely dream about, let alone enjoy.

George, the big problem is that the Unionists don't see this as "corrupt." Many of them are so mentally retarded that they actually think they are "helping" people who could not possibly cope without the Trade Unionists to treat them like cattle. Any suggestion that Unionists are not benevolent but merely viciously self-interested is met with choruses of boos and slander. How dare anyone suggest that the noble, self-sacrificing public service is nothing more than a way for Union members to feed themselves at a trough filled with the broken bodies, yea, even the blood, of the poor and indigent.

re affordability and homelessness. It's almost a tautology. It also begs the question-"Whose playground is this, anyway"?

Not sure it is that simple. Vancouver has always had a high level of homelessness, even when housing was much more affordable. It is baked into our economic and social structure, then made worse by the provincial government putting people out on the streets. But I think there is a connection today. Would like to have evidence though, not just my gut feeling. How to address both affordability and homelessness are tough issues and I look forward to hearing about possible solutions from both NPA and Vision.

I was out in Maple Ridge this weekend.

There are units for sale, new units, funning from $150K for a one bedroom and $171,700 for a 2 bedroom.

For the $55+ crowd, they had places for $219,000 which were over 1000 sq/ft and roof top patios.

I have to admit, it makes me think about relocating.

Interesting perspective (if a bit of a reach for this thread). I do have a lot of sympathy for your position though. I amnot a big fan of credentialling, though I can see it is sometimes needed (and I think law where there are special duties attached to being an officer of the court may be one of these). I do think that we should require anyone with a captive 'client population' (your term) to be transparent and publish information about outcomes.

Sorry 'running' not funning'. Yikes.


If you can arrange a time/place for me to meet your friend, I will be there.

And I need to know the size he takes in hoodies etc.

I will also buy lunch!

Mike and Daniel have access to my e-mail info.

Perahps they can funnel a message....:)

50% correction seems possible to me. But I hope we can figure out a way for a gradual decline, give people time to adjust and developers a chance to adapt their plans. I think a sharp correction will be very unpleasent for all.

can someone help me. There is an organization that helps people who are going into housing that have no money for furniture, housewares, bedding etc. I can't remember the name and it is driving me nuts.

I am getting ready to clear out my Mom's house and I would like to make sure things go to good use.

Julia, there are several... the first that comes to mind is the Kettle Friendship Society


Is it HomeStart?


Clothes2U also helps low income and seniors with free items.

oh I know.... WRAGS...

WRAGS Mandate

WRAGS is a non-profit organization incorporated in November 1992 whose mandate is to assist people in need.

HomeStart, I hadn't heard of that one....but after reading their site, they are my new favorite..

you guys are the best - thank you.

I think it was HomeStart that I read about in the paper several years back.

We will have lots of clothes too - we cannot possibly get all Mom's wardrobe into her new care facility closest and she has excellent taste in fashion. Hope to send a good chunk to Dress for Success. I will check out your other suggestions too.

again... than you.

Max, is there anything else we can do to help your friend?

Hi Julia:

It is George's friend that needs assistance.

I would be damn curious to know how many social housing units are sitting empty.

Hi Julia,
I can't really think of anything else my friend might need.. it is difficult because he is limited because of the shopping cart.

Yesterday I told him to meet me this morning and help me paint over graffiti in my neighborhood.. he said we would meet at 9am... he was there at 7:30 :-)
I paid him for his time and he immediately went to Subway, so I might get him a Subway card, rather than giving him money.. at least I'll know he's eating.
It really is heartwarming to know people are willing to help... he has had many chances in his life... but he said he is now ready to turn it around.

Hope he means it... fingers crossed...

Thanks for caring Julia.

George, please do not hesitate to tell us if there is anything at all we can do to help. We may not be able to save the world but we can certainly reach out to one soul at a time.

I also worry about you (George). What do you need?

George and others:

Here we have someone who wants to change their life, to get better and back on track, yet, not one of the 177 social advocacy groupsin the DTED, or Kerry Jang, chamipon of all that is homeless, or our good Mayor who has paid a whole lot of lip service and nothing else has stepped up to the plate.

It just boggles the mind.

Three summers ago, there were addicts that had rented a basement suite in a house ehind where my boyfirend lives. There is an alley that separates the houses. Long and short, after just an insane 5 months of these people (3 men and a woman) fighting in the alley at all hours of the night, of watching the men come home with roles of wire around their arms (I am guessing from new housing lots) and sitting out back stripping the wire of which they sold to some older gentleman that would drive up in a rather nice car, of the owners of the house not being paid any rent, of the kids in the neighboring houses not allowed out to play because of all the crap going on with this particular group, of the police showing up everyother day, and then leaving.....with them finally being evicted for none payment of rent and having the sherrif's office moving all their belonging out of the house into the yard or which the 'renters' moved everything into the alley way, of my boyfriend's work assocaite being threatened by the woman with a hammer when he was trying to get his truck into the yard.....I e-mailed Mayor Watts. Within 24 hours I had a response from her office staff and within 2 days from her. Within 3 days, these people were out of the alley. The police along with a moving truck and one of the Surrey social housing groups came and moved them.

To think your friend has been dealing with this ongoing circle of 'non-action' is just disgusting.

I your kindness brought tears to my eyes...

I must tell you, I have found so much healing from my negative non profit experience from this blog. All of the commentators that converse with me here daily have brought me back from a very sad time.

When I first came here I was not doing well, with the daily interaction here and warm wishes from you all,I now am back into society, 2 great volunteer positions..helping others of course!

I can't think of anything I need... except a part time job!! but at this rate... I'm sure something will come up...:-)

George, please request Daniel to forward me an email with your contact information. Perhaps I can assist with that part time job.

I've sent daniel an email.
sigh... thanks

Max, Julia ..
interesting how a small gesture can create a movement... I searched out my friend and told him that everyone is offering assistance... it has inspired him.. he just got himself 2 days worth of landscaping work..

not sure how he will manage as he has a serious back injury from last year when he was assaulted... but it doesn't matter.

The point is that because of the kindness of strangers, he was lifted up enough to do this for himself... powerful stuff...

George, you made my day.

@ George;

It seems small groups can work in mysterious ways....


Meant with the best of intentions:

This thread is an example of "work in progress" or slightly altered: "work and progress". both apply here.

We have several good souls who frequent this blog. I can't help but wonder how a grassroots effort might measure up against the Big Poverty Machine to make a difference in one person's life.

The other night I witnessed a woman receiving recognition for outstanding work within her industry. She is only in her 20's, with more life experience than you would want to wish on anyone. What made the situation phenomenal, is that not so long ago she was using and living on the street. Her success was extraordinary without the moving personal story that went along with it - in fact most people had no clue about where she had come from.

To see her respond to a genuine outpouring of praise would suggest to me that we have lost our way in helping others. We need to make it personal. We need to take back the responsibility of those that need help to our small communities, our churches and our friends where people have faces and names and we can begin to count on each other or hold each other accountable for what we do.

Perhaps this is the missing piece - names, faces, accountability.

Bill McCreery, Max, Julia et al..
How true these statements are!!

Check out!

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